You may be surprised to discover that one of the sleekest 15.4-inch systems in our roundup of sub-$1,000 laptops is also one of the cheapest--and it's made by Gateway. The Gateway M-1618 incorporates the shiny black finish and rounded edges that are fast becoming common among mainstream systems--including, for example, the $899 Toshiba Satellite A215-S7437--but manages to squeeze all of its features into a thinner, more compact case. The result is a laptop that feels slight, even though it provides a broad, 15.4-inch screen. Our primary complaint stems from the screen's glossy finish, which provides an excellent movie-watching experience but is annoyingly reflective for Web surfing and e-mail. There's also the matter of benchmarks: the Gateway's budget-minded AMD processor turned in some of the lowest scores among the $1,000 laptops in our roundup. If you're looking to do more with your laptop than basic multitasking, Web surfing, and media playback, consider spending a hundred bucks more for an Intel Core 2 Duo-based one, such as the Sony VAIO CR120. Otherwise, we like the Gateway M-1618.
|Price as reviewed||$899|
|Processor||1.9GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-58|
|Memory||2GB of 667MHz|
|Hard drive||250GB at 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||ATI Radeon X1270|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium|
|Dimensions (wide x deep x thick)||14 x 10 x 1.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.4 / 7.2 pounds|
The M-1618 features Gateway's new exterior look and feel, which includes a subtly patterned, glossy black finish that looks quite expensive but is also prone to fingerprint smudges. The lid attaches to the base via two extra-wide hinges that feel ready to take life's bumps and knocks. We like the case's rounded edges, and we especially like that, at 1.3 inches thick, the Gateway M-1618 is a full 0.2-inch slimmer than similar 15.4-inch systems from Fujitsu and Toshiba.
The Gateway M-1618 features a lovely 15.4-inch wide screen with a typical 1,280x800 native resolution. We liked the look of movies and photos on the screen, which displays deep color saturation. However, we found the overly glossy screen finish distracting while surfing the Web and typing e-mail. Because this is a fixed configuration for sale in retail stores, there is not a matte-screen finish option. A 1.3-megapixel Webcam above the display lets users conduct video chats.
We love typing on the Gateway M-1618, which features a sturdy keyboard and nearly full-size keys; though the Ctrl, Alt, Windows, and Shift keys have been shortened, we were able to pound out several e-mails without typos. We like the M-1618's roomy touch pad, which is responsive and provides just the right amount of resistance, and its ample-size mouse buttons. Above the keyboard sit two stereo speakers that produce adequate, but not mind-blowing, sound. There's also a button to launch Windows Media Center, a row of keys to control disc playback that are cut into the brushed aluminum, and a touch-sensitive slider to control volume. Handy but unobtrusive port labels on the keyboard deck let you know where to plug in peripherals.
|Gateway M-1618||Average for midsize category|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA, S-video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/SPDIF-out, microphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, multiformat memory card reader||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader|
|Networking||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The Gateway M-1618's slender case has just enough room for the basic ports and connections, with a few curious additions. The included HDMI output is an unexpected bonus, though we're not sure how useful it will be without an accompanying high-definition optical drive (the addition of which would launch the laptop's price beyond $1,000). The M-1618 lacks the mini-FireWire we've come to expect on a midsize laptop, though it does include a multiformat memory-card reader so you can still grab images and video from your digital camera. Even though the 802.11n standard is not yet widespread, Gateway has included a Draft N wireless card for future use. A slot-loading DVD burner helps maintain the laptop's sleek look.
Priced at $899, our Gateway M-1618 review unit featured a 1.9GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-58 processor, 2GB of RAM, and ATI Radeon X1270 graphics. The Gateway M-1618 consistently finished at the bottom of the pack of sub-$1,000 laptops on CNET Labs' benchmarks--behind even the near-identical components in the $899 Toshiba Satellite A215-S7437. The only exception: the processor-intensive iTunes test, where the Gateway's 1.9GHz clock speed allowed it to finish ahead of the 1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo-based Fujitsu LifeBook A6110. Despite its pokey performance scores, the Gateway M-1618's performance is enough to handle the budget buyer's basic multitasking, Web surfing, and productivity use without any obvious stuttering. Still, Intel CPUs generally outperform AMD in the current generation, so users who want a little more oomph may consider paying a bit more for the $1,049 Gateway M-6824 (also available in stores only), which features an Intel Core 2 Duo T5250 processor inside the same case as the M-1618.
The Gateway M-1618 also posted mediocre battery scores, lasting just 1 hour and 40 minutes on our grueling DVD drain test. Though that exceeded the battery life of both the Satellite A215-S7437 and the Fujitsu LifeBook A6110, we'd still prefer to see at least a 2-hour battery life from a budget-minded mainstream laptop. Our DVD drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.
The Gateway M-1618 comes backed by an industry-standard one-year warranty with parts-and-labor coverage and return-to-depot service. For a reasonable $150, you can upgrade to three years of coverage. Gateway offers 24-7 technical support during the warranty period, though it's a toll call for retail systems such as the M-1618. The company's support Web site includes the expected driver downloads and FAQs, as well as the opportunity to send e-mail to a technician. Every M series laptop also comes preloaded with Gateway's BigFix diagnostic software.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)